Judge Jason Panella lives his life as a musical extravaganza.
"We can see you every day. You just can't see us."—Wax
The Rooftop is a mess. But it's a gloriously fun and ambitious mess.
Facts of the Case
Wax (Jay Chou, The Green Hornet) and his buddies live on the Rooftop, where the lower class folks of Galilee City spend their days dancing, singing, and singing while dancing. Wax hopelessly pines over the beautiful actress Starling (Li Xin'ai, in her film debut), whose image adorns the billboard looming over the Rooftop.
Before you can say "meet cute," Wax and Starling bump into each other and become inseparable. No everyone likes the fact that a poor guy and rich gal are hanging out, though, and before long it seems like everyone—from mobsters to popular actors—is trying to keep the two apart.
I have a soft spot for films that overreach; watching a filmmaker try something crazy and only partially succeed is a lot more interesting to me than watching a well-regarded veteran keep things in their wheelhouse. The Rooftop is the epitome of the former—it's an insanely ambitious and messy project that stumbles repeatedly, but did I ever enjoy the ride.
The Rooftop was written, directed, and composed by Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou, who also stars in the film. Chou, who's also a ginormous pop star throughout Asia, gained a fair bit of acclaim for his 2007 directorial debut Secret. While that film was fairly subdued in its ambitions, The Rooftop is anything but—imagine a 1940s screwball take on West Side Story filmed by Jackie Chan on a soundstage stolen from Baz Luhrmann. In other words, there's lots of screwy humor, zany fight scenes, and insanely colorful musical elements. Oh, and a dour organized crime storyline.
When it works, The Rooftop is a lighthearted romp that effortlessly juggles a half dozen genres. Wax and his food-named pals goof around with the best of them, and the film's absurd sense of humor was (at least for me) near-perfect. The romance between Wax and Starling has a pleasant breeziness about it too, all playful jibes and meaningful glances. The cast is fine, for the most part; Chou plays the straight-man to his buddies' pranksters, and the supporting cast (which features some nice cameo spots from HK cinema veterans) is uniformly good. The film loads the earlier half of the film with scenes of the good guys amiably fighting off goons (while singing!) and pulling pranks on each other. It's pretty corny, sure, but in all of the right ways.
But as The Rooftop continues to pile on the absurdities, the movie suffers. It's like watching a juggler toss a few too many bowling pins in the air. The mobster subplot is the main problem; it may add some danger for the characters, but it really just saps the fun from the final third of the movie. Not that fun movies can't have serious elements (some of the best do!), but the tonal shifts feel arbitrary. Chou's music is also a weak link. Some of the musical segments are great (Chou is a gifted songwriter and musician), but a good number of the tunes feel like unmemorable throwaways.
At over two hours, the movie is just too much. It could've shed a few songs and many of the mobster scenes to become something tighter and a lot better. But the movie does more right than wrong, and there's still a lot to genuinely love here. I'm excited to see what Chou does next.
Well Go USA's Blu-ray release of The Rooftop sports an above-average 2.40:1/1080p widescreen transfer. The image is consistently sharp, and the outstanding array of colors (especially red) look great. One complaint, though: the black tones are remarkably off, looking like someone left them out in the sun too long. The Mandarin DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track sounds incredible, though, and the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is equally good. The extras are…well, there's a trailer.
Technical note: I ran into some major problems in getting The Rooftop to play initially. Well Go USA provided a replacement disc, which ultimately exhibited similar problems. The first disc (finally) played after herculean efforts to get it to work, only to freeze at a rapid rate at the halfway point. The replacement disc worked, for the most part, but significant portions of the film were almost unwatchable. Both discs bypassed the menu screen altogether. A brief survey of other Blu-ray review sites showed me that I'm not the only one who encountered these sorts of problems.
The Rooftop is a breath of fresh air from the current crop of historical epics and action thrillers coming from the Asian market, but it's too busy for its own good. I still really enjoyed most of the movie, though—it's worth checking out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go USA
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